Brake Laws – Motorhomes and Travel Trailers
Most US states and Canadian provinces have their own laws regarding the requirement for brakes on a towed trailer. The word trailer also applies to a vehicle towed behind a mobile home. These laws are usually based on the amount of weight being towed. One problem with this is that it may be legal to tow a 2,000-pound trailer without brakes in the state where you live, but as soon as you cross the state line of a bordering state, it’s illegal to tow the same trailer without brakes. Add to this that your insurance company may not cover you in the event of an accident involving an unbraked trailer. Again, the most important reason is for your safety and the safety of others.
The brakes on a tow vehicle or motor home are designed by the vehicle manufacturer to stop the weight of that particular vehicle, not the additional weight being towed behind it. This additional weight adds a substantial increase to the distance required to stop safely.
Travel trailers and fifth wheels come equipped with electric brakes, and RV dealers educate the RV consumer on the requirements for adding an electronic brake control to the tow vehicle. Some popups are requested with brakes and some without. Again, this is often based on the braking laws of the state you live in. Please note that once you cross a state line, it could become illegal. My advice is if you’re going to buy a popup, get one that has brakes.
The real culprit for ignoring the braking laws is an RV towing a vehicle behind it. Most people assume that due to the size of the motorhome, there is no need for a supplemental brake system on the towed vehicle, and sometimes RV dealers do not communicate the requirement for a supplemental brake system.
For my part, I was guilty of towing a vehicle without a braking system for quite some time. A close call, while driving through a major city during rush hour, suddenly taught me how important it is. Another thing that surprises people is how much the vehicle they are towing really weighs. Take your towed vehicle to a scale and have it weighed. Make sure you have everything that will be inside when you are towing it. After weighing it, double check to make sure the RV receiver is rated to tow that amount of weight and isn’t exceeding any of the RV’s weight ratings, such as the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR ). The GCWR is the maximum allowable weight of the fully loaded motorhome and fully loaded towed vehicle combined. Most RV chassis manufacturers base their GCWR on the assumption that a supplemental braking system is being used.
Regardless of the braking system that best suits your individual needs, the important thing is that you have one. There are many reasons to have a braking system on your towed vehicle.
1) It is the law
2) May void your vehicle warranty
3) You can void your insurance
4) Will reduce wear on RV brakes and other components.
But most importantly, it SAFELY reduces your stopping distance and helps protect you, your loved ones and the safety of others.
Copyright 2006 by Mark J. Polk owner of RV Education 101